By: DAVID NOACK
In search of credibility
News organizations take a ‘Time-Out for Diversity’
In an effort to rebuild credibility with a skeptical public, journalists at 200 of the nation’s newspapers examined whether their news coverage accurately reflects the communities they serve.
As part of a campaign to promote diversity in news columns, “The National Time-Out” in mid-May was designed to ensure that different voices and viewpoints become part of the reporting process.
Participating newspapers and news organizations used several methods to let newsroom staffers discuss how race and ethnicity figure in deciding which stories to cover, who will cover stories, and where stories are played in the newspaper. The program, announced in March, is a top priority of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) and the Associated Press Managing Editors (APME).
Participants were asked to fill out a survey describing the discussions. The findings will be released at Unity ’99, a conference of minority journalists in Seattle in July, and at APME’s annual meeting in Memphis, Tenn., in October.
Pam Johnson, executive editor of The Arizona Republic in Phoenix and president of APME, says she was pleased by the number of newspapers taking part in the voluntary program.
While ASNE has pushed to increase minority representation in the newsroom through the hiring of more reporters and editors, this project comes at diversity from a content perspective, linking diversity in news coverage to more accurate reporting.
Newspapers taking part in the project included The Oregonian in Portland, Ore., the Times Union in Albany, N.Y., the Iowa City Press-Citizen in Iowa, and The Detroit News.
Some newspapers, such as the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal, conducted a mini-diversity audit of their newspapers. The AP bureau in Columbus, Ohio, created a diversity intranet, and the Star Tribune in Minneapolis had minority leaders discuss the fairness of coverage. Reporters and editors at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., got an update on diversity efforts at the paper and then broke up into small groups to discuss how the paper has handled the issue.
As news organizations discussed diversity and how it relates to news coverage, the issue went beyond race to such topics as age, sexual orientation, and even class status. Some newspapers conducted the sessions in one day; others spread them out over a few days.
Sperry Krueger, director of newsroom operations at The News & Observer, says the discussions were “lively and insightful.” She says that between 60 and 70 news staffers participated.
“Most people participated wholeheartedly, yet we didn’t have any of the nastiness or hurt feelings that sometimes come with discussions about diversity. I heard from many people that they enjoyed themselves and thought it was the best meeting we’ve ever had about diversity,” says Krueger.
Carol Goodhue, training and development coordinator at The San Diego Union-Tribune, led the paper’s discussion during the monthly staff meeting, covering the progress the paper’s diversity committee has made in conducting an informal diversity content analysis of news stories and hosting community coffees to reach out to the minority community.
Sharon Roberts, assistant managing editor at the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman, says an outgrowth of the dialogue will be a new staff orientation program, which will now include a discussion on diversity.
Gloria Irwin, public editor at the Akron Beacon Journal, says diversity is not just a matter of race, but also of age and class.
“One area we need to do more work on is this issue of class, especially when you’re talking about zoning disputes. You’ve got older established residents, and then you have the new money coming in, and they want to put in a new shopping complex or condos or cluster homes. And we’ve kind of concluded that we’ve been avoiding the conflict in many cases,” says Irwin.
Beth Grace, the AP assistant bureau chief for Ohio, says she took advantage of the bureau’s intranet ? an internal computer network ? to reach out to those who could not make it to a roundtable discussion.
She says one of the discussions centered on something as basic as interviewing people in the street.
“When you do a person-in-the-street report, don’t talk to people who are like you. Take a left turn instead of a right turn, talk to people you’ve never seen before in a place you’ve never been before,” says Grace.
SUBJECT: LOS ANGELES TIMES
AUTHOR: EDITORIAL STAFF
Times for a change
in look and size
The Los Angeles Times is planning its first redesign in a decade to coincide with a reduction in size of the paper’s newsprint rolls.
Mike Lange, director of communications for the flagship newspaper of the Times Mirror Co., says no specific redesign plans have been discussed yet, but says the newspaper is expected to have a new look at the beginning of 2000. He says the redesign will coincide with a reduction in newsprint rolls from 54 inches to 50 inches.
“You will lose about an inch of width on each page, as well as on any tabloid publications,” Lange says. “There will be a newsprint cost reduction from it, but that has not been determined yet.”
The Times last underwent a redesign in 1989, Lange says, which included a new summary column on each section front, and a change in the number of columns on each page.